"Beware of the man in the Black Hat/He's fitting you out for much more than that." - Sam Hunt. "Fashion is FasCISM" - Malcolm McLaren. "I love Hitler!" - John Galliano.
THE ANTI-SEMITIC OUTBURSTS of John "I love Hitler" Galliano sent a wobble down the axis of Planet Celebrity.
Dior’s enormously talented fashion designer, who deserves much of the credit for setting the style of the 21st Century’s first decade, will be hard to replace. Indeed, it’s difficult to see Dior sacking Galliano if he’d given them any other choice. But, he did not. In a moment of drunken recklessness, the pencil moustachioed maestro let the mask of celebrity slip – and we couldn’t look away.
Should we be surprised at Galliano’s Hitlerian sympathies? Not at all. Fascism and high-society have always been half in love with each other.
In many vital respects Hitler was himself the creation of Germany’s upper echelons. From his very earliest incarnation as an uncouth Munich street orator, Hitler had friends in high places.
Among his first patrons were members of the aristocratic Thule Society. Seared by Bavaria’s brief flirtation with radical socialism at the end of the First World War, these fanatical anti-communists and racists were organising in secret anticipation of "The Drummer": a saviour chosen by destiny to rescue Germany from Bolshevik levelling and Jewish cosmopolitanism.
If you think that all sounds just a bit mystical and magical, you’re not mistaken. Aristocrats, be they creatures born of inheritance, money, or fleeting fame, have always looked to the supernatural for vindication.
How could it be otherwise? To believe – as just about every blue-blooded aristocrat, fabulously wealthy business tycoon or wildly successful artist believes – that one’s elite status is entirely attributable to one’s own unique and superior talents, makes solidarity with the rest of humanity all but impossible.
The rest of humankind: the "little people", are not like the elite. They are talentless drudges, fit only to serve those whom God, Destiny or the Devil has gilded with greatness. Even worse, the drudges are envious of them - enjoying nothing more than seeing them dragged down to their level – the gutter.
Hitler appeals to the John Gallianos of this world because they recognise in him a kindred spirit. From his early teenage years young Adolf knew himself to be an artist. He just didn’t know what kind. It required the Mephistophelean urgings of Thule occultist, Dietrich Eckart, to convince him that history alone could be his canvass, and that his paints and brushes must be made of flesh and blood.
Galliano may affect the style of a fop and a dilettante, but he shares his hero’s ability to tap into the zeitgeist and his same insatiable hunger for recognition. He too works with a human palette – shaping men’s and women’s bodies to his Procrustean designs. The Nuremberg rallies and the shows of international fashion designers have more than just bright lights and pounding rhythms in common.
It is through their conception of men and women as tools in the hands of superior beings: as mere instruments of their will; that the global elites enter into communion with the principles of fascism. At their very heart (and this is especially true of the fashion elites, who are notorious for their worship of thinness and whiteness) lies a cruel and isolating aesthetic.
It is an aesthetic of perfection and distance.
Nothing worth having should be easily accessible to the masses. On the contrary, the finer things of life must be like the inhabitants of Olympus: impossibly perfect and impossibly remote.
It’s an aesthetic ideally suited to the thin sliver of humanity which has seized control of such an obscenely large proportion of the world’s wealth – and John Galliano was its tailor.
So, what drove him to such self-revelatory and ultimately self-destructive public outbursts?
Could it have been the self-evident falsity of his elite aesthetic?
The finer things of life are not perfect, nor are they remote. The warmth of friendship. The taste of food. The raw confusion of our daily lives. That’s what makes life worth living – and it’s available to everyone. Young and old. Fat and skinny. Rich and poor.
To not be perfect – and yet be capable of joy. Lurching from his restaurant table to confront the subversive reality of human imperfection just metres from his own – that’s what undid John Galliano.
Had Hitler succeeded, he raved, "people like you would be dead!"
Never understanding that the life Hitler’s inhuman model had already taken – was his own.
This essay was published in The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 11 March 2011.